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chelsea 2 1000x500Twelve weeks ago this Sunday we ended the 2016/17 season with a 2-1 home defeat against West Ham. Mid June brought the 2017/18 fixtures and here we are, ready to go again with a trip to play last season’s Premier League champions Chelsea on their own ground to kick off the season.

It’s not the first time we’ve started a Premier League season against them. That happened three years ago when, after Scott Arfield had opened the scoring, they frightened us to death with three goals in 17 minutes to take the points.

For us to start a season against them at Stamford Bridge, we have to go back over half a century, 1965 to be exact when we drew 1-1 against them. Terry Venables opened the scoring that day with Arthur Bellamy equalising for the Clarets in the first minute of the second half. Both teams went onto have good seasons; Chelsea finished in fifth place with Burnley two places higher.

It’s no surprise to be playing them. This is our fourth Premier League season and the fixtures have given us a game against each other in August on every occasion and we’ve sadly lost all of the previous three.

I don’t think we’ll forget last season in a hurry. Although it petered out somewhat, we were actually safe with three games to go and to reach 40 points was some achievement, taking us seven points beyond our previous best in these recent Premier League years.

As always there have been changes to the squad and I have to say I’m disappointed to see both Michael Keane and Andre Gray leave. Keane, for me, was our player of the season in 2016/17 but it was inevitable that he would leave. In a way he’s outgrown us and he’s joined a club in Everton who are closer than anyone to breaking into that top group of currently six clubs.

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I’m sure all Burnley fans will wish Keano well at Goodison and that also goes for Andre Gray whose move to Watford this week stunned us for more than one reason. There have been rumblings all summer. He would have been out of contract next year and it became apparent that he wasn’t going to sign another, but it all happened so quickly in what appeared to be less than 24 hours. And Watford of all clubs, they finished below us last season.

They are gone though and we move on even though neither have been replaced in the transfer market this summer although the business we have done has, in my view, strengthened us. In Phil Bardsley, Jack Cork and Jon Walters, we have signed players with a lot of Premier League experience and they join a squad which included only three players in Matt Lowton, Stephen Ward and Ashley Westwood who had over 100 Premier League appearances. We’ve also brought in Charlie Taylor from Leeds who will provide Ward with competition for the left back spot, something he hasn’t really had since Ben Mee moved into the centre of defence.

One of those new signings, Walters, faced the media yesterday. Although he’s likely to be named among the substitutes, he’s ready for the new season. “You wake up on a Monday morning in the week leading up to a Premier League season and you can’t wait to get going,” he said.

“It’s a tough start, but one we’re relishing. Sometimes it’s a good time to play the bigger teams, early on in the season. Perhaps they haven’t gelled as much, or made the signings they want. It’s a difficult game, but it’s only a team of 11 names and hopefully we will go out there and put on a good performance and get a result we want. Bring it on.”

As we make our way to Stamford Bridge tomorrow we do so with almost a clean bill of health after the season. Only Dean Marney remains out injured and the players did get their minutes up during the week in a behind closed doors game to make up for the lack of them last Saturday courtesy of a few hundred Hannover 96 fans.

When planning this preview, I had a team in mind that I thought Sean Dyche might select. It came from watching the Celta Vigo game ten days ago. I think we probably know what the team is now and it was the one from that Celta game other than the two central defenders with Kevin Long and Charlie Taylor starting in those positions in that game.

The team should be: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Steven Defour, Jack Cork, Jeff Hendrick, Robbie Brady, Sam Vokes. Subs from: Nick Pope, Adam Legzdins, Phil Bardsley, Kevin Long, Charlie Taylor, Ashley Westwood, Scott Arfield, Jon Walters, Ashley Barnes.

Chelsea should be delighted we are still in the Premier League. In each of our three previous seasons they’ve won the title and that’s been under three different managers. Carlo Ancelotti was there in 2009/10, it was Jose Mourinho in 2015 and last season Antonio Conte was in charge for the first time and took them to the title following a disruptive 2015/16 season in which they finished as low as tenth.

A number of players have left them since the end of last season and another shed load have gone out on loan. The biggest name on the list of departures is probably John Terry who has moved on to Aston Villa while Nemanja Matic has joined Manchester United and, although still at Stamford Bridge, Diego Costa can be added to the list with him now totally out of favour and expected to leave either this month or in January.

Their big signings are Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid, Tiemoue Bakayoko from Monaco and Roma’s Antonio Rudiger. Other than Manchester City goalkeeper Willy Caballero, they are the only signings so far in this window.

Conte has revealed that Rudiger could start but he confirmed that Pedro, who is not suspended despite last week’s Community Shield red card, will miss the game through injury. They will though be without Victor Moses who is ruled out through suspension having been sent off in last season’s FA Cup Final. Also out, of course, is Eden Hazard who, no matter which way you look at it, is a big miss for Chelsea.

They lost the penalty shoot out last week against Arsenal in the Community Shield, this coming in a 1-1 draw in which Moses scored for Chelsea. Their team was: Thibaut Courtois, Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Gary Cahill, Victor Moses, N’Golo Kanté, Cesc Fabregas, Marcos Alonso (Antonio Rudiger), Willian (Charly Musonda), Michy Batshuayi (Alvaro Morata), Pedro. Subs not used: Willy Caballero, Andreas Christensen, Kyle Scott, Jérémie Boga.

 

LAST TIME WE WERE THERE

 

Like this season, our visit to Stamford Bridge in 2016/17 was our first away game of the season. It shouldn’t have been; we should have played at Anfield a week earlier but that game was switched to the Turf so we arrived at Chelsea with that win under our belts having lost the season opener at home to Swansea.

I think it is fair to say that Chelsea were better than us on the day. I don’t think we played particularly well, more so in the first half, but I don’t think it would have made much difference because Chelsea looked a very, very good side on the day.

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Sean Dyche spoke about a gulf between the sides and the performances of Eden Hazard, N’Golo Kanté and Nemanja Matic in particular were just too much for us on the day.

It was difficult to watch at times, it always is when you are second best in a game but we knew that we wouldn’t come up against many teams as good as this and so it proved over the season with Chelsea clearly worthy champions.

Hazard scored an early goal before Willian doubled the lead just a few minutes before the break. The third came right at the end from Victor Moses.

The teams were;

Chelsea: Thibaut Courtois, Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, John Terry, Cesar Azpilicueta, N’Golo Kanté, Willian (Victor Moses 77), Oscar, Nemanja Matic, Eden Hazard (Pedro 81), Diego Costa (Michy Batshuayi 80). Subs not used: Asmir Begovic, Cesc Fabregas, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Ola Aina.

Burnley: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, George Boyd, Dean Marney (James Tarkowski 72), Steven Defour (Aiden O’Neill 57), Scott Arfield (Johann Berg Gudmundsson 57), Sam Vokes, Andre Gray. Subs not used: Paul Robinson, Tendayi Darikwa, Michael Kightly, Lukas Jutkiewicz.

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